Seized plane owned by Kazakh airline, then sold: official

ASTANA, Dec 14, 2009 (AFP) - A cargo plane seized in Thailand suspected of smuggling arms from North Korea was owned by a Kazakh airline before being sold to a Georgian firm two months ago, officials said Monday.

Unidentified crew members (C) of the cargo plane wait behind bars before leaving the Criminal Court following a hearing, in Bangkok on December 14, 2009. (AFP photo)

"This aircraft was previously in the register of Kazakhstan and was sold to a Georgian airline by our private airline and removed from the state register of Kazakhstan on October 7, 2009," Radilbek Adimolda, the head of Kazakhstan's Civil Aviation Commission told reporters.

"Until spring of this year it belonged to private Kazakh airline, East Wing. It was then bought by Kazakh airline Beibarys, which in turn in October of this year sold the plane to Georgian airline Air West Georgia".

"It was found that this aircraft does indeed have Georgian registration," he added.

The Ilyushin Il-76 was seized at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport on Friday during a refuelling stop and was discovered to be carrying 30 tonnes of weapons from North Korea, in violation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang.

Thai police said the crew requested permission to land for refueling in Bangkok and then lied to inspectors about their cargo, saying it was oil-drilling equipment.

Four of the five crew members arrested by Thai police are citizens of Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and China.

Adimolda confirmed that four crew members are Kazakh citizens and said that Kazakhstan "will carry out work to defend our citizens."

Source: AFP

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